As much as we think we know of the inner machinations of existence, the greater truths yet elude us, and we can only grasp and wonder at what logic, if any, directs those strange and ethereal winds. The age of superstition is behind us while, supposedly, logic and science are in ascendance. That which is not known is either denied as fantasy or simply awaiting a prudent classification into the scheme that we feel comfortable with. Rarely are the mysteries accepted and admired for their question, rather than the answers.
Years have passed since the last major evocation by the Covenant’s own magisters of the tempting bizarre, Spell, with 2016’s, For None And All. But that four year span has not gone in stillness. The Vancouver three piece have finally returned with the unbridled magnificence of Opulent Decay, which sees Spell achieve a stunning apex.
“I would say we’re becoming ourselves to a greater extent,” stated bassist-vocalist, Cam Mesmer, “not in the way that we’ve pinpointed a style that we’re just gonna sort of narrow in on, [but] maybe we’re just getting more honest with ourselves in the sense that we can [say], “oh that’s cool and this is cool and we don’t give a fuck what other people are gonna think about it.”
More so than ever before, Spell feel simultaneously exact in their precision and nebulous in where they belong on the metal spectrum. Classic rock and heavy metal are channeled alongside prog and psychedelic elements, but never does this stray too far into dependence. Spell is a creature all its own, and the entirety of Opulent Decay is blinding proof of that.
“I’ll just use whatever comes to me that I find to be beautiful.” says Mesmer, “I don’t really care for genre labels at all. We’re not trying to be a heavy metal band or trying to be any kind of band. I’m just trying to write the best songs I can…Maybe it’s just that I’ve been like obsessed with listening to metal for 20 years that I just don’t give a fuck about that and I guess that’s why like I feel like it’s dangerous to just consider yourself a metal head because then you’re just looking for more of that shit when there’s beautiful music everywhere.”
The proof is in the goddamn pudding. Never once does Opulent Decay slouch into a filler track rut. The precision of emotional impact and timing is sublime.
“What I’m really into these days is beautifully concise song structures with absolutely no fat on them. I love Motown for that. You look at The Supremes or any of the good Motown hits and, man, these songs are so fucking concise! There’s absolutely nothing extra, not one extra note, there’s not one extra second of the song [and] it’s just sheer power. Every moment of it is designed to just create this explosion when the chorus comes around. The structures are so beautifully laid out, it’s not just like piling riffs upon riffs. It’s like every note is ingeniously designed without any waste to make it explode and to make you obsessively listen to it.”
Decrying the over saturation of genre labels, Mesmer went on to divulge the precious, and equally esoteric fountain of inspiration that has invigorated Spell with the lightning vitality the band wields in Opulent Decay, as well as reflects the abstract wonder of the arts as a whole.
“In terms of the music, more and more so in the last few years it’s been coming from sleep and from dreams. Usually in the evening before I go to bed that’s when I’ll take a bit of time to play some guitar and try to work on writing stuff, but then it’s always just really going around in my head as I fall asleep… and then right when I’m falling asleep something will click, because I’ll just be running all the different riffs, ideas, and song structures through [my head]… something will connect and I’ll jump out of bed. My girlfriend is kind of annoyed about that, because you just finally get to sleep, everyone’s tired, but then I’m like, “Oh hold on, get off me for a sec! I’ve gotta go play my guitar!” Mesmer recounts, laughing.
“Sometimes it’s past that and I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, sit bolt-upright in bed…[and] it’s not even so much a specific melody, sometimes it’s just this weird feeling you have in a dream where the images and the dream don’t necessarily connect in an obvious or logical way with the emotions you’re feeling in the dream so it could be anything, but they will have these overwhelmingly heavy atmospheres, whether it’s terror or wonder. Sometimes you just have that beautiful feeling like you’re some sort of creative God with the ability to produce amazing art. [Even] deep anxiety or just overwhelming love…, the whole spectrum. And then I kind of leap out of bed and try to translate those emotions into notes on the guitar and just try to remember them because the dreams vanish so quickly.”
Dream influence has been cited by various artists across mediums throughout history, but Mesmer seems to actively embrace the unconscious state with a simultaneous appreciation and oneiromantic fervor. All humans dream, but whether it is because of a precise attunement or mental state, only some can reap meaning and substance from their clouded memories upon waking. Doubtless this is a primary foundation of what makes Spell so captivating, standing apart from the masses by simply embracing the unknown.
“I’ve never ever excluded something because I thought it wasn’t metal enough it wasn’t [this or that]. I have no authority to decline to bring some beauty into the world that’s been gifted to me by the other or by the beyond…that’s an enormous gift and I would never turn it down.” he says.
Matching the mysteriously captivating nature of the music, Opulent Decay touts a truly breathtaking cover by the legendary surrealist, Max Ernst.
“We weren’t sure what to do for the longest time and I was just kind of looking around for inspiration, [but] Annick from Temple of mystery records in Quebec, [mentioned that] you can actually license art from your favorite great artists in history… so I was looking for something really special, because I don’t want to take something that was used before. I went down to Macleod’s books in [downtown Vancouver] where they’ve got that amazing basement there and they only let you into the basement if you ask or if there’s a special reason…I worked in used bookstores for seven years so I got kind of familiar with the scene. And that guy is brilliant. He knows so much about his totally disorganized stock and knows where everything is…He let me in the basement because I said I just wanted to look through piles of weird art books.”
As Mesmer recounted his veritable delve into lesser known recesses in search of his perfect visual quarry, it took on an aura of exploration like those in stories of the remote past. Like William of Baskervilles scouring the Aedificium in The Name Of The Rose.
“It’s super dusty [in that basement] and there’s just like stacks to the ceiling of weird books. I was just looking through hundreds of books and eventually I found this one about the surrealists and Dada…I was familiar with Max Ernst, and I love the surrealists and Dadaists, but usually the only piece people know of his is [Celebes, 1921]…, but this one I had never seen before, I had no idea it existed… I just opened it in the dim light and I was like, holy shit!”
The search paid off, emblazoning Opulent Decay with a fitting visual representation that will only make it that much more irresistible to attain in its physical, vinyl form. In tandem with the sonic majesty of Opulent Decay, Spell make brick and mortar of varied, but uniformly dense concept matter with which to craft their lyrics.
“I tend to just get really into reading before I start writing lyrics and this time around in particular, I was kind of obsessively reading the Romantic poets, which I’ve loved for years. I just kind of got really deep [into] Shelly, Coleridge, Byron and Keates, that sort of stuff… The great things about them as you can always just go out to the used books bookstores and find just so many copies of their books for a buck or two. And I’d just been flipping through those pretty heavily for the two or three years before we recorded the album. It was all pretty fresh. So that was kind of what was inspiring me in terms of the rhyme schemes and stuff like that. But also in the sense of those Romantic poets, and what I love about them is there’s never any use of that sort of sneering, “too cool” or ironic elements about [their work]. They just look for the most important shit in the world and the heaviest topics that they can possibly conjure up and then just tackle them head on without fucking around at all.” Mesmer explains, with no small amount of passion for those bygone masters.
“I’m so sick of people being too cool for this or that. Just find what’s important and write about it, deal with it and address it.” he adds, and this philosophy merges with Cam’s own contemplation on the world around him, as it inevitably injects itself into his art.
“I personally believe that we live in a society where people try to ignore and avoid hardship in life and try to just set their lives up to just include comfort and luxury and opulence… the whole record comes [from that balance of] opulence and decay…I think that there’s just as much value in suffering and sorrow as there is in luxury and ease, or happiness…we strive for happiness but I really think that this culture of avoiding challenges is to our detriment and a lot of what I wrote the record about is… about these times I’ve seen people be so much less than what they could be because of how they spend their time seeking ease and comfort, rather than seeking challenges and difficulties, because this is the stuff that makes us grow, that makes us better and stronger.” conveys Mesmer, continuing, “I would be so ashamed of myself if I spent my whole life working at a job so I could just…buy a bigger TV and fucking buy a comfier couch [or] a bigger house to store my freaking comic book collection in, [or] a fancier car, and then go on vacation to some sort of place where I’m just gonna sit around in luxury.” And almost immediately upon finishing his sentence, Cam intercepted the conversation with a worthy disclaimer.
“I feel like someone’s gonna look at me and say, “hey, well you’re a privileged white guy, living in Vancouver. What’s all this suffering you do?”. And for sure, probably the vast majority of the world suffers a great deal more than I do but I’m not talking about those people and saying, “you should suffer more.” People do suffer and I want to hear their voices more. What I don’t want to hear is the voices of people that are driving their Teslas to buy a larger big screen TV, and which is all too often whose voices we hear. These are the people that have the platform to make their voices heard.”
In that way, Opulent Decay is a call to arms for those with passion in their hearts. It is an example of inspiration and ambition let loose, in spite of whatever obstacles or sacrifices necessary to achieve one’s goals.
Spell has never felt so fully realized as now. The passion and love of music, or simply art, bleeds through with every track. From the blazing single, “Psychic Death”, which fires the blood with vigor and wonder, to “Dawn Wanderer”, that stirs a sincere air of tragedy, Opulent Decay embraces the emotional spectrum to an extent that the band’s previous albums had not.
“I guess I’m just more honest with myself and maybe we’re just less afraid to be who we are…I don’t care who thinks they love Diana Ross as much as me. Probably not many metalheads. But I fucking love Diana Ross and I’m gonna show as much Diana Ross influence as I possibly can in my music.”
Spell will unleash their 3rd full length Opulent Decay unto the masses on April 10 through Bad Omen Records on beautiful coloured vinyl, CD, and digital.